Bail in New Jersey Gets Major OverhaulIn 2014, the citizens of New Jersey voted to amend the State Constitution relating to criminal justice reform. The Criminal Justice Reform Act became effective on January 1, 2017. This change addresses bail reform and speed trial. Under the new law, if a defendant is charged on a complaint warrant and not a summons, the defendant will be sent to the county jail. After that, an initial hearing must be held within 48 hours. At this time, release is considered by using a risk assessment tool to determine a defendant’s likelihood to fail to appear, if there has been new criminal activity, or if the defendant is flagged for new violent criminal activity. A defendant will be released prior to trial with monitoring conditions that don’t involve money unless the prosecutor files a motion to detain the defendant. If the motion is granted, a detention hearing must be held within 72 hours.

The Act is expected to reduce the state’s jail population. This is a departure from past history when people were given a bail in order to be released from jail.

The risk assessment tool that evaluates a defendant’s risk of failing to appear in court, committing another offense, or committing a violent offense includes a number of factors, including:

  • age of the defendant at the time of the alleged offense
  • whether the offense was violent
  • past convictions and failures to appear in court
  • other pending charges.

If an offense is charged by a summons, the defendant will be released. Offenses, including those that are charged under the Domestic Violence Act, may be charged on a warrant. If the defendant is charged by warrant, there is no monetary bail available. The defendant will be transported to the county jail until the initial hearing regarding releasing the defendant is brought before a judge. If the risk assessment recommends releasing the defendant, prosecutors who disagree will have to file a motion for detention.

If the defendant remains in custody, the case must go before a Superior Court judge within 72 hours where the defendant has the right to argue for release. Prior to the hearing, the State must provide full discovery to the defendant. The defendant has the right to argue his/her right to release. The Superior Court Judge can order the defendant held without bail based on what has been presented at the detention hearing, which may include whether the defendant is a threat to the public, the serous nature of the charge, whether the defendant may fail to show for his/her court hearing, and whether the defendant may be a threat to the community or witnesses and for many other reasons.

Once it has been ordered that a defendant is to be detained without bail, Prosecutors have 90 days to indict a defendant. A trial must then be scheduled in 180 days. The defendant will be released if these deadlines are not met.

According to Stuart Rabner, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, “The existing bail system is not fair to poor defendants who, because they cannot post bail, are cut off from families, may lose their jobs, and may go without access to medication for a period of time. In terms of the charges against them, studies have shown that they face tougher plea offers and pressure to plead guilty because of the amount of time they have already spent in jail, and they receive longer sentences as compared to similarly situated defendants who were able to make bail.”

If you have been accused of an offense and need to know more about your rights, contact the Law Firm of Sara Sencer McArdle for a consultation at 973-366-5244.